Time to stop complaining about potential employers using Facebook to “spy” on job candidates: It turns out that Facebook is actually an excellent predictor of how you’ll do on the job. A new study finds that the persona you project in your profile actually matches up with how employers say you perform at work. Your Facebook persona isn’t a crazy weekend alter ego — it’s just you.
The study from three universities — Northern Illinois, the University of Evansville and Auburn — asked three “raters” (a professor and two students) to spend about 10 minutes looking over profiles of a variety of employed college students. The raters looked at everything from photos to comments to profile information, even comments and wall posts. Then they filled out a form rating each subject’s personality traits, including emotional stability and dependability.
So far, this is similar to how employers already use Facebook: An oft-cited 2009 study from CareerBuilder found that 45% of employers use social networking sites to screen job candidates (a number that has surely risen in the meantime). And 35% of employers said they had found material online that prompted them not to hire the applicant. That material included everything from posts about partying to bad-mouthing a former employer.
The ethical implications of employers using Facebook to “spy” on candidates has been hotly debated. As one critic put it, employers are “misleading themselves and building ill will with talented prospective employees” — not to mention tempting legal action. Why should you be judged for guzzling tequila in a skimpy Halloween outfit on a weekend if you make it to work on time on Monday?
But the new study finds that the persona you create on Facebook actually says something about you. After gathering the quick impressions from the raters who perused the profiles, the researchers followed up with the workers’ employers after six months. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “They found a strong correlation between job performance and the Facebook scores for traits such as conscientiousness, agreeability and intellectual curiosity.”
Here’s the thing: Those judgments aren’t all about party photos. Raters liked the students who had friends, many interests, and enjoyed traveling. In fact, party photos were sometimes evidence of friendliness and extroversion — positive qualities.
As usual, one lesson here is to be careful on Facebook and remember it’s not a private space. But if you’re confident in your professional abilities, it’s also reassuring to find that most people’s true selves actually come through online pretty accurately.